How is Your Sleep Hygiene?

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Note from Rebecca: Just days before Day Light Savings ends, we thought it would be good to address one of the most important tenants of health: our sleep hygiene. We are a tired nation with a high threshold for pushing through our exhaustion. But not meeting our sleep needs while trying to maintain a high level of function in all areas of our life is unsustainable over the long term. Making a commitment to change or start a new sleep hygiene habit can shift your trajectory of health and wellness for the better. Thank you, Megan, for sharing your wisdom!

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Humans sleep approximately 1/3 of their lives away, which equates to 27 years of life for an 82 year old.

Proper sleep has been proven to enhance mood and immune function, IQ, concentration and memory.

It also reduces risk of a long list of ailments and accidents: Heart disease, depression, obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, suicide and car accidents.

But 80% of people will have some sleep disorder during their lifetime, and persons with lower socioeconomic status are particularly disadvantaged. This makes sense as nutrition, exercise and stress all effect quality of sleep (all of which are compromised in individuals of lower SES).

So how much sleep do we need?

Everyone differs in terms of their ideal range, but 7-8 hours is a good general range. Individuals sleeping less than 5 hours/night carry a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and all-cause mortality (death).

Among the 5 stages of sleep, adequate time in REM (dream) stage is most crucial for mental tasks and memory function.

What can you do to protect your sleep?

Actions that are helpful include:

  • Having exposure to daylight/sunlight during waking hours
  • Regular exercise (promotes REM sleep)
  • Keeping room temperature cooler
  • Using the bed only for sleep and sex
  • Having a ‘wind down’ routine that may include caffeine free teas, a warm bath or a TV show

On the other hand, the following tend to interrupt sleep:

  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Sharing the bed with partners that toss, turn or snore
  • Stimulating the brain prior to bed (with reading material, work, intense/mysterious or thought provoking TV shows)
  • Alcohol (even one drink before bed for some individuals will do it, and this is especially true for females, who lose more sleep from drinking alcohol than men)
  • Perspiring/overheating
  • Having large meals within 2-3 hours of bed time (a small snack is fine)
  • Excess weight can also be associated with sleep deprivation. Not only are cortisol levels typically higher in obese persons, but the extra weight can result in snoring and sleep apnea.

For those of you more concerned about the cosmetic consequences of sleep deprivation, here are a few additional reasons to prioritize your beauty rest and improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Puffiness under the eyes, due to fluid and sodium retention
  • Skin wrinkling, as the balance between cortisol (promotes wrinkles/aging of skin) and growth hormone (protective/regenerative) is disrupted
  • Acne, also due to the increase in cortisol production
  • Reddening of eyes and dark under eye circles due to dilation of the blood vessels

How is your sleep hygiene practice?

What one change are you going to focus on to improve your sleep hygiene?

In good health –

Megan Holt, DrPH, MPH, RD

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